Allowing women to join previously all-male club was 'the right way to go,' Alta Club manager says

Published: Friday, April 6 2012 11:21 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A formerly all-male club in downtown Salt Lake has some advice for leaders of the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia: Open the doors to women.

“It’s their club, and they can do what they like, but we have been fortunate to make the right decision,” said Alta Club General Manager Richard Swapp.

The controversy over Augusta's policy is in the spotlight again now that one of the club's longtime sponsors, IBM, has a new female CEO, Virginia Rometty. The last four CEOs at IBM, all male, have been invited to be members.

The Alta Club, founded in 1883, has been for decades the place for the who's who of Salt Lake City's business elite. The private club opened its doors to women in 1987 following an anti-discrimination lawsuit.

“We all have to evolve and change, and this was, I think at the time, maybe difficult,”  Swapp said. “But now, looking back, (it was) the right way to go.”

Today, club membership is roughly 70 percent men and 30 percent women. The change in membership is helping business, instead of hurting it.

“It was a time to make the adjustment, and they did it and embraced it, and we’ve thrived since,” Swapp said. The club elected its first female president in 2008.

The president of the Utah Golf Association, Judy Allem, said it’s time for the Georgia club to change its rules. “Women have come a long way,” she said. “If someone makes it to the top of their association, they should have all the perks.”

The chairman of Augusta National said this week that the club will decide for itself whom to allow into its ranks.

"As has been the case whenever that question is asked, all issues of membership are now and have been historically subject to the private deliberations of the members," Billy Payne said Wednesday. "That statement remains accurate and that remains my statement."

Even President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney agree  women should be allowed in Augusta National.

White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that it was "up to the club to decide," but Obama told him he personally thinks women should be welcome.

Romney said he would allow women in "if I could run Augusta."

Contributing: Associated Press            

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